For a film haunted by death, the re-issued Black Orpheus is a remarkably joyful and exuberant affair, unfolding in a heady swirl of colour, dancing and movement. In this version of the Greek legend, Orpheus (Breno Mello) is a Brazilian tram-driver, seducing the beautiful Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) through his musical charms. But despite the wonderful bossa nova soundtrack and the vibrant performances of the non-professional cast, there's more spectacle here than substance.
An international hit on its original release in 1959 - it won both the Palme D'Or at Cannes and the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar - Black Orpheus helped create an exotic vision of Brazil for global consumption. Directed by a Frenchman Marcel Camus (Albert's brother), it presents an outsider's photogenic view of the Carnival in Rio, which, whilst celebrating Brazilian culture, glosses over the social and cultural injustices endured by its favela-dwelling black characters.
The Technicolour film's strongest suit remains the way it captures the jubilant celebrations in the city, and the dance sequences which showcase the samba skills of the leads. Camus' cinematic storytelling doesn't however reach the magical heights attained by Jean Cocteau in the earlier Orphee: here the figure of Death pursuing Eurydice is crudely decked out in a skeleton-costume, and the key "don't look back" scene in the underworld is rushed, diminishing its emotional impact.
In Portugese with English subtitles